The Canadian Press
Most teams have a pretty good idea of their quarterback depth chart entering training camp. That means the preseason is as much about quarterbacks, especially starters, working off a little rust. There are always battles to determine the backup or No. 3 spot, of course. But by and large, the quarterback stakes don’t typically feel high heading into the preseason.
It seems a little different for the Toronto Argonauts in 2023.
The Argos entered training camp with the CFL’s least experienced quarterback room by a significant margin. Presumed Week 1 starter Chad Kelly is entering just his second season in the league. Cameron Dukes, Ben Holmes, and Bryan Scott have a combined zero CFL pass attempts.
There’s a lot of potential under centre, but there are also several questions to be answered. At least we can start getting some of those answers on Saturday afternoon when the Argos travel to Hamilton to face the Tiger-Cats.
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While head coach Ryan Dinwiddie has been consistent in saying Kelly will have to earn the No. 1 job, we can be pretty sure he’ll start the regular season on top of Toronto’s depth chart. As mentioned, Kelly is the only pivot on the roster with CFL experience; he started one game last season and delivered a standout performance in relief of the now departed McLeod Bethel-Thompson in the 109th Grey Cup.
“Obviously it’s been a long time waiting (since) I’ve been a starter and I have a chance to put my foot in the door and really go in and earn the job,” Kelly told CFL.ca’s Don Landry in the off-season. “I’m just taking it one step at a time to really work as hard as I can. Harder than I ever had before.”
Encouragingly, all reports suggest Kelly is putting his money where his mouth is. He’s taken first-team reps throughout camp so far and excelled in the team’s Double Blue scrimmage earlier in the week. In the annual intrasquad game, Kelly threw for 139 yards and two touchdowns while completing 10 of his 12 passes.
As of writing this we don’t know what the Argonauts’ depth chart is going to look like for Saturday’s preseason opener against Hamilton. If Kelly does end up starting and getting playing time, those live reps feel more important than they might for, say, Bo Levi Mitchell, Zach Collaros, or Trevor Harris.
Unlike those pivots, Kelly has started one game, at any level or in any league, since his senior season at Ole Miss. That was back in 2016. That one start came in Toronto’s regular season finale last season where, to his credit, Kelly played well.
And now that he’s getting his first professional chance as a starter, Kelly is taking it seriously. That might be an understatement, in fact.
“If you look at what the great ones do, those are guys so dedicated that they want to be the very best,” Kelly told Mike Hogan at Argonauts.ca. “They’re diligently doing every single day what they preach; they eat right, they sleep right, they put everything in their body the correct way.”
Down the depth chart
While Kelly’s preseason is mostly about getting the right reps in to be ready for Week 1, the rest of the depth chart is still very much in flux. Holmes, Scott and Dukes all have everything to play for in Toronto’s two exhibition tune-ups.
Most believe Holmes has the leg up to win the backup job behind Kelly, mainly because he’s entering year two with the Argos. Holmes is familiar with the offence, coaching staff and key playmakers, which should give him a slight advantage. That’s anything but a given, though.
Of the three potential backups, Scott is the one with the highest leverage recent playing time. The 27-year-old started three games with USFL Philadelphia in 2022 and was leading that league in passing before going down with injury.
Dukes also started games last season, racking up big totals in Las Vegas of the Indoor Football League. Just 24, Dukes is the youngest of the bunch and Toronto has the smallest book on him. As such, he’s the one with the most to show when he gets his preseason opportunities.
Toronto’s two preseason games go this Saturday against Hamilton and then next Thursday against Ottawa at the University of Guelph. I’ll be attentively watching both and focusing most on quarterback, because we’ve got a lot to learn before the Argos kickoff their regular season at home to Hamilton in Week 2.